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   The Dalai Lama


               Spirituality and the Environment

– the Dalai Lama, a Priest, a Rabbi, an Imam, and a Native American Elder

by Larry Cwik

On May 9, 2013, the Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, revered by Tibetan Buddhists the world over, visited
Portland and spoke on Spirituality and the Environment.   He spoke to a capacity crowd of almost 5,000 people at the University of Portland’s Chiles Center and captivated the audience.  Anchorwoman Laural Porter of Portland’s KGW television moderated a panel which included the Dalai Lama, representatives of the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim religions, and a practitioner of Native American spirituality.

The Dali Lama has served as a global spiritual leader, diplomat, and former head of Tibet’s government in exile.  The Tibetan government was exiled in 1959 after Chinese leaders expelled it; the Dalai Lama stepped down as the head of Tibet’s government in exile in 2011.
                                                                                                                                     The Dalai Lama at the University of Portland, May 2013; photo: Larry Cwik

The Dalai Lama spoke about personal experiences concerning the environment and interacted with the four other religious and spiritual representatives:  Father E. William Beauchamp, the President of the University of Portland and a Catholic Priest; Rabbi Michael Cahana, the Senior Rabbi of Portland’s Congregation Beth Israel; Imam Muhammad Najieb, Resident Imam for the Muslim Community Center of Portland; and Grandmother Agnes Baker Pilgrim, the oldest living female of the Takelma Band of the Confederated Tribes of the Siletz of Southern Oregon.  Their vibrant discussion illuminated diverse environmental perspectives.  They opened a dialogue on these subjects that should be replicated in other cities and countries.  Such discussions can further peace, international understanding, global relations, and environmental healing.  

The Dalai Lama, during much of his talk sported a purple University of Portland visor that had been presented to him.  
This shielded his eyes from the harsh lights above, and this was important to him because of his 2012 eye surgery.  He commented on the tendency of many religions to believe that their faith tradition is the best.  He said “It is wrong to say a 'God state',” and there is “no room to exploit other, to bully other.”  He noted the Earth’s population is expected to reach
10 billion by the end of this century, with a huge gap between the rich and poor. He added, “there is no contradiction between caring for the poor and caring for the earth.”

The Dalai Lama noted that faith, as represented by each panelist, offers “hope and comfort, peace of mind.”  This said,  he noted that no religious tradition should try to dominate others.  Religious conflict due to difference in philosophy is “very, very unfortunate.”  Different religious and spiritual traditions should cultivate “genuine harmony within ourselves.”  Religious traditions vary according to different climates and cultural traditions.  The world’s religious and spiritual traditions should all come together for a “message of peace, message of spirituality.”  

Grandmother Agnes Baker Pilgrim noted that her tribe has lived in the region for 22,000 years, respecting the “Great Spirit, creator of all.”  She thanked the Dalai Lama “for bringing us together from the four directions.”  She said that water is not only precious but is “our first medicine,” comprising 75% of our body and present during a baby’s birth.  She asked that “Grandfather help us to prevent the pollution around the world,” adding that “Yesterday was history, tomorrow is a mystery, and today is a gift.”  We need to protect “the waters, the air, the animals” for the childrenShe also commented on the Dalai Lama’s personal story, saying: “We pray to China so that the Tibetans can go home.  It is a disgrace to the world what China has done” to the Tibetan people.

Grandmother Agnes Baker Pilgrim at the University of Portland; photo: Larry Cwik

Is There Hope to Work Together to Save the Planet?

Moderator Porter asked panelists to respond to the query: 
are you hopeful that we can work together to save the planet?

The Dalai Lama reminded the audience that “This planet is our only home,” noting that other celestial bodies we are exploring are “almost impossible” for human settlement.   “Greed – that is the lifestyle I think we should check,” he continued.  Turning off lights, showering instead of taking a bath, and other habits in sync with protecting the earth’s resources should be part of each person’s daily routine.  “We have to think long-term” about “our world, part of the galaxies,” he continued, if we are to effect lasting change for the better.  

Father Beauchamp noted that education is very important in helping the environment.   Moderator Porter said in her introduction of Father Beauchamp that the University of Portland is the first university on the West Coast of the U.S. to ban disposable water bottles and the institution is building sustainable buildings.  The University board's goal is for the
campus to be "carbon neutral" by 2040 and not contribute to global warming.

                                                                                         Father William Beauchamp, President of the University of Portland; photo: Larry Cwik

Rabbi Cahana shared a poignant story from his faith.  A boy went to the woods every day.  The father questioned his son, asking why he went there.   The boy told his father that he went there to find God.  The father replied to his son that
“God is the same everywhere.”  The boy responded “yes,
but I am not.”  

Rabbi Cahana continued that “all of creation is linked;”  fleas, gnats, flies, frogs, scorpions, and snakes are all part of this creation.  With urbanization comes less connection with the environment as “a love of the land . . . comes from an intimate knowledge of the land.”

The Dalai Lama’s Relationship to the Environment as a Boy

Moderator Porter asked the Dalai Lama to comment on his relationship to the environment as a boy, and how it may have changed when he left Tibet.

The Dalai Lama responded that a small population and simple lifestyle in Tibet kept the environment clean.  In his Tibetan homeland he freely drank from natural water sources.  But after being forced into exile by the Communist Chinese government in 1959, he learned that he could not trust natural water resources in India, his newly adopted country.  The pollution there made it unhealthy to drink the tainted waters.  

Rabbi Michael Cahana & Imam Muhammad Najieb at the Univ. of Portland; photo: Larry Cwik

The Dalai Lama commented on a visit to Stockholm.  A man accompanying him commented on fish that had returned to a river in the city.  The fish  had been absent for years because of pollution.  Media attention helped reduce pollution there and journalists can help educate people elsewhere.  The Dalai Lama noted that the global warming impacting earth is particularly bad in his homeland, with atmospheric carbon levels on the Tibetan plateau that are twice the global average - and as severe as those at the North and South Poles.  Chinese leaders are allowing some to be “exploiting natural resources without proper care” and this adversely affects water resources for much of the Asian continent, not just in Tibet and greater China.  The Tibetan plateau glaciers have been called the “breadbasket” of water resources for Asia, a continent that is home to more than four billion people.

Grandmother Pilgrim said “To me, church is every day.”  “God is here” as she patted her chest.  We should thank the water: “Talk to the water – It can hear; talk to the clouds,” she urged.  She encouraged us us to forgive ourselves and others.  With a smile she added “If you’ve got one foot in one world and one in another, you better pray you’ll make it.”

Imam Najieb said that the bee, the ant, and the spider all have a role.  He urged those in the crowd to use the inter-faith dialogue of the panelists “as a springboard to activate others.”  He added that “mass consumption . . . dwarfs our spirituality” and we must all work in “harmony with the environment.”

Father Beauchamp told the crowd we have to stop what we’re doing to each other in the name of religion. This inspired loud applause from the audience. 

The Dalai Lama said “Religions should not harm each other.”  The planet is “multi-religious.”   This is is a fact that no one can change.  We “cannot eliminate other religions” but rather “have to live side by side.”   Religions can develop suspicion.  He asked: “what benefit?”  Instead of suspicion, we should learn from each other and then develop “admiration and appreciation for other traditions.” 

He attended a gathering in Argentina.  A Chilean quantum physicist participated.  The Dalai Lama noted that
the physicist “should not develop attachment to his own field” just as the Dalai Lama himself should “not develop attachment to Buddhism.”  Such attachments lead to bias and judgement of others.  Our mind should
be unbiased.  “Conflict in the name of religion” is really based on economic or political differences masked in religion.  A “sense of concern with others’ well-being” will lead to trust and “trust is the basis of friendship.”  Conversely, lies lead to stress and inner weakness.   Religions must analyze:  “What’s the value?
What’s the benefit?”

The Dalai Lama, in admiration, told Grandmother Pilgrim:  “You really respect nature.”  Then he spoke of the importance of this respect:  “within this room, can control cold and hot,” but we cannot do so outside in nature, even with technology. He added that all of us should look at other spiritual traditions and see what is the benefit.  The earth’s seven billion humans have never been and will never be all Buddhists or all Christians or all Jewish or all Muslims.  But, “we’re all chosen” the Dalai Lama noted.  He closed the panel’s discussion by saying that “There is no other choice, except live harmoniously.”  This would apply both for our relations with others and our relations with the earth.

Larry Cwik is an artist, photographer, and film-maker in Portland.

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